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The royal wedding looks lovely. Joff has never seemed so handsome or gallant, a golden lion boy-king sweeping Father's yellow and black cloak over Sansa's shoulders, Sansa who is tall and beautiful and elegant.

One almost cannot see Joff's fingers dig into her arms, the paleness of Sansa's face or the silent tears she weeps.

Joff kisses Sansa, and everyone roars their approval, but Myrcella can only stare at a fading bruise on Sansa's white, white cheek.

They cannot see, but she does. Myrcella sees.

o o o

No one will admit to it, but they're losing. She hears whispers about the treachery of fighting a war on two sides, the impossibility of fighting on three. She counts quietly -- Uncle Stannis, Uncle Renly, and Robb Stark -- and lies awake at night.

It's Grandfather who says it. Something must be done. Sacrifices must be made, grievances set aside in the name of survival, and there is only one enemy who might even consider treating with them.

Myrcella listens through closed doors as Mother rages and screams, but it does no good. Grandfather will not be swayed. "There is no choice," she hears him say coldly. "Cersei, even you must see the sense of it. We may rule two kingdoms or none -- do you understand?"

It is Grandfather who says it, but it is Uncle Tyrion's idea, planted so subtly and bartered so skillfully that she is likely the only one who realizes. When the arguing is done, when she has fled back to her chambers to feign sleep, he comes to her. "It's for the best, sweetling, you'll see it in time," he murmurs, and strokes her hair as she cries. "I'm giving you something I could not even give myself."

A life far from Lannisters. She hears what he does not say.

o o o

Ravens come, ravens go. She grows to cringe and shudder at the sight of them.

Terms are reached more quickly than her grandfather and uncle could have hoped: in return for Robb Stark's acknowledgment and support against all other claimants, Joffrey will concede both the North and his sister's hand in marriage.

The small council erupts into chaos when word is announced. "Madness!" Grand Maester Pycelle shouts. "Utter folly! You cannot possibly think to surrender His Grace's rightful lands to this -- this stripling traitor!"

"The North is a desolate wasteland filled with snow and rebels and very little else," Uncle Tyrion drawls. "His Grace shall hardly notice its absence."

Lord Baelish raises an eyebrow. "But do you really think it wise, treating so generously with the Young Wolf? To hand him a crown as well as our lovely princess...why, some might believe it a sign of weakness."

"Not nearly so weak as three armies marching over King's Landing, and burning it to ash and bone," Uncle Tyrion claps his hands together. "Gentlemen! I fear this is all simply a matter of perspective. Where you see surrender, I see opportunity. Where you see defeat, I see triumph."

"Triumph!" Pycelle huffs.

Uncle Tyrion gives him a patient look. "And where you see yielding part of my dear nephew's kingdom, I see securing the rest of it for him, as well gaining him a second. Two realms, one alliance, and soon enough..." he turns to smile at Myrcella, who sits with eyes downcast beside her fuming mother. "One bloodline."

"How very neat," Lord Baelish says, and to Myrcella, somehow it does not sound like a compliment.

Grandfather speaks for the first time, fingers steepled before his face. "The Stark boy is green, but a talented commander, and the Northmen have held the Iron Throne for more than one king. They took it away from one as well, you may recall," he turns an icy look on all the small council. "I don't intend that to happen a second time. This matter is final."

And so it is.

o o o

Joff doesn't want to sign the contract, formalizing their agreement. He roars almost as much as Mother had, before she stopped speaking entirely to Grandfather or Uncle Tyrion (or Myrcella herself, as if she were a willing conspirator). "The only thing I'm giving that filthy traitor is a spike for his head!" he screeches.

Grandfather is implacable. "You will sign," he says, and nothing more. His stare is enough.

Not even Joff can stand up to it.

Afterward, he storms from the room, thundering toward the queen's suites. Everyone will pretend not to hear Sansa's cries of pain, and no one will ask where she is, when she cannot get out of bed for three days.

o o o

Despite the bitterness and violence that have occurred between their families, the Starks are willing to grant them one concession -- Myrcella shall be allowed to remain at the Red Keep until she has flowered.

A cold comfort, perhaps, but comfort all the same.

The years pass quickly, a haze of war and change and growing dread on her part. When she's fourteen, and the last of the second Ironborn Rebellion has finally been put down, Robb Stark begins sending her letters that she does not know what to make of.

He asks if she's well, if there's snow yet in King's Landing. He asks what she likes to do, what colors and sweets and books she likes. He asks how his sister is.

(Queen Sansa has lost three babies since she and Joff were married. Her belly has begun to swell again, and Myrcella prays to the Seven this one will live. She prays to the Warrior, to protect her good-sister this time from Joff and his temper, his quick angry hands)

She doesn't know quite how to answer, honestly. She would ask Mother, but Grandfather had her married to a Highgarden Tyrell two years past, and she has not seen her overmuch since then.

Uncle Tyrion says to be sweet and flattering, and for all the gods' sakes, the less said about Joffrey, the better. Tommen says to ask which he likes best, puppies or kittens, and if Bran and Rickon can come visit soon.

Myrcella sits by her window, and writes that she's very well, thank you, and that she likes painting better than sewing, hawking and riding better than dancing; she likes yellow and iced honey milk and a good number of books, but she likes poetry most of all. She writes that it snowed that morning, but only a little, and it was melted by midday.

She writes that his sister is troubled by mother's stomach, but Tommen sneaks her lemon cakes every morning and that makes her feel better (she doesn't write why they must be sneaked, that Joff has forbidden Sansa anything but broth and bread until she's delivered him a healthy son).

For her next name day, an envoy from Winterfell brings her a set of paintbrushes made from ox hair, and a tiny silver pendant of a hawk in flight, hung from a yellow ribbon.

She wakes up bleeding four days later. Uncle Tyrion immediately begins to make arrangements for her departure.

The wedding is in a month.

o o o

The journey to Winterfell is longer than she remembers, and not nearly long enough. It's hard travel through deep snows, freezing weather. Her retinue is forced to stop and take shelter more than once, because of sudden blizzards.

They arrive at the tail of one such storm. The whole of the Stark household, or what remains of it, is awaiting them, standing in solemn rows of fur and leather and wool. Myrcella climbs from her horse, and greets her future husband with snow melting in her hair, cheeks and nose red from the cold. "Your Grace," she curtsies low, and tries not to shiver.

Robb Stark is tall and broad. His beard is cropped close and his hair is curly, auburn as Queen Sansa's. "Your Royal Highness," he nods his acknowledgment, gracious if unsure. "Welcome to Winterfell."

She rises, less sure-footed than she would like, and he offers her a steadying hand. She looks into his eyes by accident, sees them flick over her appreciatively. Vivid blue, also like his sister's. He favors Sansa quite strongly.

He's as handsome as she remembers.

Myrcella looks quickly away, stomach curdling with fear.

o o o

It's an endless, sleepless night. Myrcella lies on her back, listens to her ladies-in-waiting snore gently at either side of her. Tomorrow she will be wed. Tomorrow she will be stripped and carried to a stranger's bedchambers, and the door will lock behind her.

She thinks of Joff and Sansa, their bedding, how he'd laughed as his Kingsguard had torn the gown from her body. She thinks of the door, that horrible door, and Sansa's terrified face as it had slammed shut. The stifled, agonized cries and sobbing that had come from behind it.

Myrcella thinks of lady warriors, like Maege Mormont from Bear Island, and all her fierce daughters; Brienne of Tarth, who fought for Uncle Renly; Queen Nymeria of the Rhoyne, and her ten-thousand ships. She thinks how she must be strong like them.

She must be brave.

o o o

They take her to the hot springs in the morning to bathe. Her ladies rub her with oil scented like heliotrope, neroli, and rinse her hair in flat beer mixed with honey so it will be soft and gleaming.

She's dried and brushed and clothed in a daze. They lay linens soaked in milk over her eyes, compresses of tea and bark, but nothing will fade her dark circles entirely.

It's all right, they tell her. Every bride is nervous.

Myrcella nods and makes courteous noises, and feels like she's going to be sick.

She wears the silver hawk pendant, its ribbon that matches her gown of butter-colored silk.

Uncle Tyrion comes to see her as they dab her lips with berry juice, try to pinch color into her pallid cheeks. He stops and looks at her a long moment, as if he has never seen her before. His mismatched eyes crinkle at the edges. "Well, it would seem our Young Wolf is getting the bargain of his life," he teases, and kisses her hand. "You grow ever lovelier, my sweet. You are the best of your mother and your father both."

Myrcella smiles, as if she does not know the true meaning of his words, and twines her arm through his.

o o o

Though it is cold and the snows deep, the ceremony takes place in the heart of Winterfell's godswood. Robb Stark stands waiting beneath the ancient weirwood, and she quails inside to look at it, the weeping face in its bark.

He stares at her with his mouth softly open, slackened. She knows how she must appear, struck by the last rays of a falling sun, a tumble of golden curls and pale skin and rustling yellow silks. She knows though she is not tall and shapely as her mother or Queen Sansa, she is still thought pretty, even beautiful sometimes.

Uncle Tyrion escorts her down the rough snow-cleared path to the heart tree, to her betrothed. If any see her shaking, perhaps they think it merely due to the chill and her thin southron blood.

Everything is a blur, the oaths and prayers and watching faces. The King in the North slips his cloak of gray and white around her trembling shoulders, fastens it with the greatest of delicacy. He's just as careful, tipping her face up for a chaste kiss.

She is a Stark now. She is a queen and a wife.

I must be brave, she thinks again, and dries her cheeks with the corner of one sleeve.

o o o

The great hall is filled with northern bannermen, drinking from horns of heather ale and feasting on great joints of aurochs, sausages glazed with beer, roast duck and onions, crusty bread with butter and preserved apples and sharp golden cheese.

Myrcella pushes food around her plate, listless and drawn. She feels eyes on her, and glances up to find Lady Stark looking at her, cold distaste softened somewhat by pity. Myrcella summons her best smile, though she knows it to be a ghostly, tremulous thing.

Her wine, watered as it is, sits queasy in her stomach. She sips it reluctantly, only enough to moisten a mouth gone dry as salt. Robb (her husband, they are married and it seems hardly real) sits at her left side. She feels him watching her as well. "Is the wine not to your taste, my -- my queen?" he stumbles over the unfamiliar address, and it's a comfort to know that this is strange to him, too.

"Oh...oh no, Your Grace," she says quickly, lest he think her small appetite a slight on his hospitality. She must not offend him, not today. "The wine is very good. It is only that after such excitement, I fear it makes me dizzy."

He summons one of his men, and Myrcella steels herself for the coming blow.

(perhaps he would be merciful because it is their wedding, and would not have her badly beaten?)

But the man bears only a fresh goblet. Robb takes it and thanks him, and sets it before her. "Perhaps this will suit you better, then," his smile is so like Sansa's, except it is open and glad, and there is no sad shadow on his face.

"Thank you, Your Grace," Myrcella murmurs, raises the goblet to her lips with hands that shake hardly at all (must be brave). Cool sweetness touches her tongue, creamy and whispering of cinnamon, soothing to her parched throat.

Iced honey milk. Had he remembered, or was it only chance? She glances at him through her lashes, but he is already talking with another of his men, laughing and boisterous.

She drinks, thinking of Tommen and shared pitchers in the gardens, long afternoons spent picking flowers and chasing kittens, and quietly asks for another when her cup is empty.

o o o

Though it seems to, the feast cannot last forever. Inevitable as nightfall, as winter, as death, it comes time at last for the bedding.

A group of women, giggling and merry, drag Robb from his seat. He's grinning as they lead him from the hall.

Myrcella is engulfed by a sea of grasping hands, leering faces. Strangers tug at the lacing of her bodice, pull her sleeves free of her shoulders and arms. Her gown pools at her feet, and a dark-haired young man yanks her smallclothes down to join it. His smile is cruel. "Well, well, looks like the little lioness doesn't have teeth in her cunt after all."

"Don't be silly, Greyjoy," Uncle Tyrion deflects from the back. "That trait skips a generation."

All of them laugh. "No teeth, aye," another man tosses in. "But she'll have plenty else in there soon enough."

She stares into nothing, repeating names inside her mind. Maege Mormont, Brienne of Tarth, Queen Nymeria. She won't let them see it touch her, she won't let them see her shame or dread. She is a lion, and a wolf now as well, and she will be strong.

A giant man hauls her over his shoulder, and the men make bawdier and bawdier jokes as they carry her to the bedchambers.

Robb is there already. The women have left him his smallclothes, but nothing else. He trades jests with his bannerfolk, her uncle, laughing and teasing, but his eyes follow only her. His gaze is hot as the noontide sun of her childhood.

Then everyone is gone. The door closes, heavy and final, and then it is only the two of them.

o o o

It is as in her nightmares. Myrcella stares at the huge looming door, near black in the candlelight, and though she has tried so desperately to be brave, she cannot help but tremble.

"There's honeyed wine, if you would like," her husband says, and his voice is faint to her, as if he were very far away. "If it would not dizzy you, I mean."

Tears sting her eyes. She cannot bring herself to face him, can only continue looking at the door. There's no lock -- she could run, she could try. A moment's temptation, but no, it would be wrong. This is her duty. She will not flee like a craven. She will face her fate, her suffering, with honor and dignity.

Except that she can't stop shaking.

A hand touches her shoulder, and she flinches. "Are you still cold?" Robb is right there, turning her head toward him with a touch. His eyes are so blue, bluer still widened with alarm. "Myrcella, what's wrong?"

Cold pierces her belly. It had made Joff wroth when Sansa cried (when she herself had cried, when they were younger and he would make her touch him, would twist her arm 'til she gasped and wept. "I will be your king, and you'll do as I say!"). She hurries to wipe the tears from her face, tries to force a smile but it won't come. "Forgive me please, Your Grace, it is only that I'm so -- " the words catch in her throat. "So very happy to be here with you, I'm overcome."

"You're terrified," he takes hold of her arms, and she trembles in his grasp, waiting for it to tighten, to bruise. But it doesn't happen. His hands are as gentle as his voice. "You don't have to be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you."

Her head swims with confusion. "But you will," she blurts out. "You have to. My brother -- "

Something dark shadows his expression, but he still doesn't hit her or shake her. Robb cradles her face as delicately as he had given her his cloak and kiss. "Whatever has passed between our families is no fault of yours," he says, holding her gaze. "I swear I will not harm you."

Myrcella wants so badly to believe him. Hope twists hard and harsh in her stomach. "But, Your Grace, the...the bedding," she feels herself go red, tongue-tied. It's embarrassing to speak of.

A smile pulls at one side of his mouth. "My name is Robb," he strokes her wet cheeks with his thumbs. His eyes are soft and warm, glinting in a way that makes her shiver for entirely different reasons. "And as I said, I won't hurt you. But I ask you to risk your trust on me, even if only a little. Will you do that?"

He's being so kind to her, more than she had dared to wish for. She looks up at him, heart thudding. He's always been handsome, she thought so even as a child, but here in this moment, she's never known anything so lovely as his sweet, gentle face. "Yes," Myrcella says, and though her knees still quake, she steps nearer to him. "I will try...Robb."

He kisses her for the second time, and there's nothing chaste about it.

o o o

Robb draws her to the bed, bids her to sit upon it. His eyes fall to her breasts, and she thinks he will reach for them (Joff's hands were cruel on Sansa, always, groping at her no matter who watched or how she reddened with shame), but he guides her to turn and give him her back instead. "The bed furs are warm, if you feel a chill," he says lightly, as if he is not also offering tacit permission. Myrcella hurries to cover herself, grateful for his understanding.

He is more subtle a diplomat than either her uncle or grandfather give him credit for.

The fur feels soft against her bare skin, and so do Robb's hands, come to rest on her shoulders. He touches her hair, runs his fingers through its spill of blonde curls, then sweeps it out of the way.

"Relax," he says, a smile in his voice, and she struggles to obey as he begins to rub her back.

It isn't a struggle for long. His hands are deft and strong, kneading the tense muscles in her shoulders, alongside her spine. He works a knot in the small of her back, and Myrcella lets her eyes close, her head fall forward.

Time slows and softens, stretches like thick strands of honey pulled from a jar. Robb caresses and rubs her until she is melted, pliant, so loose-limbed she hardly remembers to hold the fur over her nakedness. No one has ever tended to her like this. It''s wonderful.

It is then, and only then, that he presses his lips to her skin.

Feather-light, silk-light, he kisses the knobs of her vertebrae, the tip of her shoulder blade, the edge of her collarbone. He kisses her neck, and tingles of pleasure spark all through her. His fingers skim her side, her ribcage.

She's flushed, half-drunk on his touch. He strokes her stomach in gentle circles, rising slowly ever higher as she grows breathless, languid. At last he palms her breast, calluses rasping over her nipple, and she exhales shakily, heat unfurling in the cradle of her thighs.

His breath is sweet and hot on her neck, quickening. "Lie back on the pillows," he murmurs, and she moves as if in a dream, without thought or fear, abandoning fur and modesty to stretch out before him.

Robb stays where he is a moment, limned gold in the candlelight, looking her over. His eyes are lust-dark, fever-gleaming, and the open desire in them should frighten her, but it doesn't. Myrcella meets his gaze, and her blood turns to sunlight, hot and bright all through her.

"You're beautiful," he breathes, and climbs onto the bed at her feet.

He parts her legs, caresses her inner thighs until they sing with sparkling crackles of sensation, then sinks to lie between them. His head is at her belly, and Myrcella looks down at him with hazy curiosity. Robb smiles at her, a little wicked, and just as she opens her mouth to ask what he's doing, he lowers his own to kiss her most secret place.

She gasps.

o o o

It is like coming awake and dreaming, all at once. The skilled press of his lips and tongue and clever, clever fingers have her writhing, moaning helplessly. He licks and sucks her like a rod of spun sugar, like a bowl of frozen cream, like a ripe split peach dripping juice down his chin.

Surely they can hear her outside, but Myrcella can't bring herself to care. She can only clutch the bed furs, squirming under his patient ministrations.

Robb speaks to her when his mouth lifts long enough from her sex. "You're delicious," he murmurs into her thigh, sliding an easy forefinger into her. "Like salt and honey. I could sup all night from your sweet golden cunt," she startles at his sudden vulgarity, the...the blunt eroticism of it. She throbs around his finger, clenching tight, and he grins up at her. "You like when I say that, don't you? You like it almost as much as I like tasting your wet, lovely, luscious cunt."

He punctuates by laving his tongue over the swollen, aching pearl at her apex.

The world shatters all around her, within her. Myrcella arcs and shakes and buries her hands in his thick, auburn curls, crying out.

It is the sweetest of torments, pleasure at its sharpest, most consuming. Robb leads her to this ecstatic unraveling again and again, until she is half-senseless, feverish, so sensitized he need only breathe on her flesh and her legs begin to tremble.

He rises, and the bed shifts as at last he removes his smallclothes. He stretches out alongside her, hot and solid and bare, and she waits for that stab of fear, the tug and twist, but it doesn't come.

Instead it's she who presses against him, she who twines her arms around his neck and seals her lips to his. She tastes herself on him, strange and familiar at once, a distant echo of honey milk, salt water, heliotrope and neroli.

He pulls her close, rolls them both over 'til she's lying on top of him. "Like this, sweetling," he tells her softly, catches her behind one knee to draw her leg over him.

Myrcella pushes herself up to sit, unsure, straddling his thighs. His manhood juts thick and red, hard against his belly. His hands find her hips, draw her to kneel astride him. He takes himself in hand, and her heart flutters when she feels him nudge at her, slick and blunt.

Heat surges in her stomach, between her legs. "Go as slowly as you need," he says.

She braces against his chest, breathes deep, then begins to sink down onto him, inch by careful inch.

There's no real pain, only a sense of opening, a faint burn like stretching a hard-used muscle. Between one breath and the next, easy as that, he's all the way inside. He's joined with her, and it never hurt, and she can only stare down at him in wonder.

Robb's biting his lip, eyes half-closed and dark, smoldering. One thumb follows the curve of her waist, the dip of her navel. "Ready?" he asks.

And somehow, she is. She nods, and he moves underneath her, into her, a soft, slow cresting wave that carries her with it. Instinct and his tender guiding hands teach her how to move with him, how to push and pull. It's as simple as it is new.

They rock together, hastening as urgency buds and blossoms, inflames with its giddy wild nectar. Sweat glistens on his skin, beads and drips down her spine, the back of her legs. His hands trace her breasts, slide to cup and squeeze her backside, finally come to rest at the juncture where they are coupled.

He teases the little nub where she throbs so keenly, and the pleasure is immediate, blinding. Myrcella feels her vision blur and herself begin to contract uncontrollably, a rush of hot and sweet and wet, and there's nothing she can do but throw her head back and wail. It's wanton and shameless, and she doesn't care at all, because it's marvelous, too.

Robb sits up beneath her, clutching her tight as he buries his face in her breasts, buries himself into her slick heat again and again, until he is groaning, breathless. When at last he spills his seed inside her, it is with her name on his lips.

My husband, she thinks, cradling him as he pants, still pulsing within her, and for the first time, it seems true.

o o o

They lie dissolved together after, sweat-slick and sated. Robb strokes idle patterns over her stomach, cheek pressed to her hair. "Well," humor is warm in his voice. "Do you feel your trust has been adequately rewarded?"

She gives him her first genuine smile of their marriage. "If it were any better rewarded, I should think I would be jelly for a week," as it is, she's never felt so deliciously wrung-out, so wholly luxuriated.

She's never understood so acutely how obscene Joffrey is.

The smile falls from her lips. Myrcella looks away at the hearth, into the flames still flickering there; the same color as Queen Sansa's lovely hair, as the fingerprints that had marked her wrists and long, elegant neck for days after the royal wedding. "My brother is a monster," she says softly.

Robb's hand doesn't falter, sketching easy circles on her skin. "I know," he says after a moment.

Confession lurches out of her, deepest ugly secrets near bursting from her lips. "He hurts Sansa. He hurts our people, he hurts -- " me, it's on the tip of her tongue to say. He hurt me, and no one helped, no one did anything. "He should be stopped. Even just once, I wish...I wish someone would make him stop."

She's never spoken it aloud before. She's felt this way for so long, and she's never breathed a word.

It wasn't safe. She looks at Robb, his lovely face, his honest kind face, and realizes she's never been safe a moment of her life until here.

Robb kisses her forehead. His smile is faint, serious-eyed. There's something both sharp and compassionate in his expression. "Perhaps a day is coming when someone will," he says, and traces the open silver wings of her pendant with a fingertip.

It had never struck her before how free the hawk seemed.

o o o

Within the year, Joffrey is dead. A terrible accident, they say, so like his father's -- thrown from his horse and trampled while riding down a stag.

So young, so tragic. So unfortunate that he had not first gotten an heir on his beautiful northern queen.

(none who had ever survived long enough to be born)

Myrcella is at her easel when the raven arrives. She doesn't cry, only thanks Maester Luwin quietly for telling her first, then takes up her brush and oils again. Lady Catelyn comes hours later to fetch her for supper, and catches sight of her work, exclaiming over what a beautiful garden it's shaping to be. "So lovely and bright," she says, smiling.

Robb's surprise at the news comes somewhat hollow, but he says nothing, and she doesn't ask. It would be too great a disappointment to find if he had no hand in it.

(he and Uncle Tyrion, who spends as much time in Winterfell as in King's Landing, who welcomes more Northmen into his household employ with each visit)

Deep in the night, she thinks of Robb, patient and waiting. Planning. She thinks of northern pages and grooms and squires, northern hands holding skins of wine and sharp, sharp daggers, and her eyes drift closed. It's the most peaceful she has ever slept.

When next her uncle arrives, Sansa is with him, pale and thin, haunted. There's a new scar on her cheek, a new gauntness in her arms and face. A new light in her eyes as well, looking upon Winterfell once more at last.

She allows Ser Rodrik to help her down from the wagon, before casting aside all pretense of dignity to run and embrace her mother, her brothers. In all the years they have known one another, Myrcella has never seen her happy this way. Free.

"It's so good you've returned, sister," she says, when it is her turn to be greeted, and the look she and Sansa share speaks beyond what any words could.

o o o

After the celebration and feast are over, when she and Robb lie curled together and naked and drowsing, Myrcella thinks of the future.

Tomorrow she will sit beside Sansa and sew in quiet content, and there will be no hovering dread, no waiting shadow. Tomorrow she will ask if the newest kittens from the stables will be old enough to travel, by the time they must leave for King's Landing and Tommen's coronation.

Tomorrow she will tell Robb for the first time that she loves him. Has loved him -- at least a little to start -- since that first night, when he had shown her a world of kindness and sweet pleasure she had never known.

She will not tell him her last moon blood came over two months ago. Not yet.

Myrcella touches her belly, the little wolf hidden dreaming inside of her, and smiles. She thinks she will keep this secret a little longer.

It's the first she's kept that has ever brought her joy.